Bomb kills at least 65 and injures 30 at Pakistan election rally

QUETTA, Pakistan: A bomb killed at least 65 people and injured dozens on Friday in southwestern Pakistan, in the day’s second attack on a political rally as fears of violence rise ahead of nationwide polls.

“The death toll has now risen to 65,” said Agha Umar Bungalzai, provincial home minister, adding that at least 32 were wounded in Mastung town, near the Balochistan capital of Quetta.

“It apparently was a suicide attack,” he added, though that could not be immediately confirmed.

Officials earlier said at least 40 people had been injured.

A senior local administration official, Qaim Lashari also confirmed the new toll, saying the figure was likely to rise.

Bungalzai said the explosion killed Siraj Raisani, who was running for a provincial seat with the newly-formed Balochistan Awami Party (BAP).

“Mir Siraj Raisani succumbed to wounds while he was being shifted to Quetta,” he added.

Raisani was the younger brother of former provincial chief minister Mir Aslam Raisani.

The explosion comes hours after four people were killed and 39 injured when a bomb hidden inside a motorcycle detonated near a Pakistani politician’s convoy in the country’s northwest on Friday, near the Afghan border.

The earlier bomb, near the town of Bannu, targeted the convoy of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) candidate Akram Khan Durrani, who survived the attack, police said. No group has yet claimed responsibility.

On Tuesday a bomb claimed by the Pakistani Taliban targeted a rally by the Awami National Party (ANP) in the city of Peshawar. Hospital officials said Friday that the toll in that attack had risen to 22.

Local ANP leader Haroon Bilour was among those killed. Thousands flocked to his funeral the next day.

Following the attacks, activists called for Pakistani authorities to remain vigilant to protect candidates during the final days of the campaign season.

“The Pakistani authorities have a duty to protect the rights of all Pakistanis during this election period — their physical security and their ability to express their political views freely, regardless of which party they belong to,” said Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director at Amnesty International.

Militants have targeted politicians, religious gatherings, security forces and even schools in Pakistan.

But security across the country has dramatically improved since government and military operations cleared large swathes of territory near the Afghan border in recent years.

Analysts warn however that Pakistan has yet to tackle the root causes of extremism, and militants retain the ability to carry out attacks.

Last month a drone strike killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Maulana Fazlullah, in neighbouring Afghanistan in what the Pakistani army called a “positive development” that also sparked fears of reprisals.

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